Flashback to Loon, October 2013: Transforming a country one day at a time


Sonny Coloma

“One year ago, 58-year-old Harold Lumictin, his wife and their six children were made homeless when their house was destroyed by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that rocked the Island of Bohol in the Philippines. In total, 222 people died and more than 670,000 families were affected across the Central Visayas region.”

That’s an excerpt from ReliefWeb dated Oct. 14, 2014. Here are more details as reported by the Manila Bulletin:

“According to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), the earthquake caused surface rupture and produced strong ground shaking, liquefaction, and earthquake-induced landslides. Several collapsed sinkholes also appeared after the tremor. This earthquake was generated by the North Bohol Fault, which according to Phivolcs had no previous surface manifestation.”

I am sharing this flashback with participants in the Organization Development Practitioners Nertwork (ODPN) who are meeting today and tomorrow in Panglao, Bohol. They invited me to speak on the topic, “Fostering Dialogic Approaches to Transform the Philippines – One Conversation at a Time” I offered a simpler version: “Let’s talk about how we could make our country better one day at a time.”

I thought of sharing with them my recollection of how then President Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III endeavored to lead the country toward sustained growth and progress during his watch.

He visited Bohol and Cebu on Oct. 16 and assessed the damage caused by the earthquake. He was leaving for Korea as the first foreign leader to undertake a visit since President Park Geun-hye, daughter of former President Park Chung-hee, took office in early 2013. One of the highlights of that visit was the signing of a defense agreement that facilitated the acquisition by the Philippine Air Force of 12 FA-50 fighter jets, the first two of which were delivered in 2015.

At that time, Korea was the country’s top source of tourists reaching more than a million in 2012 or nearly a quarter of total tourist arrivals to the Philippines, aside from being a leading provider of official development assistance.

President Aquino returned to Bohol on Oct. 24, 2013. He distributed relief goods after inspecting several badly-hit areas. Then he and his team of Cabinet and local officials proceeded to a ridge in Moto Sur where tents had been pitched. The amenities were spartan: a makeshift washroom and rest room were set up near the tents and concealed from the public view with a tarpaulin. Water was supplied by tankers. members of the presidential staff selected the site and made all the preparations themselves to avoid bothering local officials who had their hands full attending to the evacuees.

He was staying overnight in Moto Sur, Loon.

He met with his Cabinet members, including Secretaries Jerico Petilla, Dinky Soliman, Mar Roxas, Voltaire Gazmin and Rogelio ‘Babes’ Singson, who were responsible for key components of relief and rehabilitation, including energy, social welfare, local governments, national defense and public works and highways.

Secretary Gazmin directly supervised the Office for Civil Defense that worked closely with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

Why did he decide to set up camp and sleep in Loon?

He wanted to experience first-hand how the people of Bohol were experiencing the aftermath of the strong earthquake that disrupted their lives.

He had been consulting with Science Secretary Mario Montejo and Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, also said there was no reason the people of Bohol should be afraid of the aftershocks. If at all these would continue, “these would not be in the magnitude of the main quake because the fault line that generated it had already released all its energy.”

PNoy also tried to ease the residents’ fear of sinkholes, saying the island was being mapped for those holes using ground-penetrating radar. He said the map would be finished in the first quarter of 2014. He said he told Gov. Edgar Chatto and other local officials to see to it that the municipal engineers coordinate with the Department of Public Works and Highways to determine if the houses remained structurally sound so the evacuees could go home.

His decision to encamp and spend the night on the island was much appreciated by the residents. “I think it helps psychologically. It contributes to regaining confidence that Bohol is safe,” said a local official.
Four months later, on Feb. 24, 2014, he returned to Loon as part of the 28th anniversary of EDSA People Power. He led a townhall meeting and dialogue with representatives of disaster-stricken communities from the Bohol-Cebu earthquakes and from Typhoon Yolanda that cut a wide swath of destruction in Leyte, Samar and Cebu. They said that they were easing back to normalcy and were greatly encouraged to rebuild their lives by government programs on livelihood support and skills training for employment.
Organization development is highly similar to community- and nation-building. It involves patiently working at change by taking small steps toward improvement – or by adopting new paradigms and mind-sets that enable large-scale transformation.